The smallest nation in the Americas still looks, in many respects, the way it must have looked in 1492, when Christopher Columbus glided by.
One of the islands resembled St. Christopher, to his way of thinking, so Columbus named it after himself. The other, a volcanic peak capped with frothy white clouds, looked snowy from afar — “nieves” to the Spanish crewmen.
After Athens, Madrid might be the most-scrutinized world capital this month, as global leaders anxiously train their eyes on the Mediterranean financial meltdown.
But while cultural offerings are taking a hit in other cash-strapped cities, Madrid is the defiant exception. From the lavish gardens of the Royal Palace to expanded hours at the Prado, visitors to the Spanish capital will see scant evidence of crisis.
We were in Apulia, lounging on beaches along Italy’s coastal heel, when it occurred to my husband and me that both we and our rental car needed to be dropped off in Rome — 400 miles and two metropolitan traffic jams away.
We could have booked an airport hotel and written off the last day as a multi-hour schlep. But we wanted to extend our beach vacation to the very last possible hour — and in doing so we hit upon some inspired, even under-sung corners of Roman charm.